We reported last week on the latest all-too-familiar university campus racism incident, this time at UCLA regarding a “Kanye Western” theme fraternity and sorority party where some attendees allegedly wore blackface and fake large butts. In our bare-bones breakdown (because, let’s face it, we’ve seen versions of this before), we talked about protests that were just starting as we went to press.
According to the Daily Bruin, UCLA’s student paper, nearly 200 protestors dressed in black gathered for a rally on Thursday that included speeches from members of the university’s Afrikan Student Union (who are responsible for organizing the protest) and one university official. Then the group marched to the university’s Chancellor’s office.
During the protests, students rallied and chanted slogans like “Black Bruins Matter,” which was also a popular hashtag on social media for those participating in and supporting the action:
The Daily Bruin recorded the rally speeches, which you can listen to here. The university official who spoke at the rally, Vice Chancellor and law professor Jerry Kang, confirmed a university decision to suspend the social activities of the fraternity and sorority in question pending university investigation. Other speakers addressed how this incident underscores the isolation many black students feel at UCLA, especially given that the party took place during the university’s Black Bruin Welcome Week to celebrate black alumni and students through panels and events. One spoke to this racism outside of the main Chancellor’s office, as the Daily Bruin reports:
Janay Williams, an ASU chairperson who witnessed students covered in brown paint and black soot Tuesday night in an attempt to portray the complexion of black students, called out to the chancellor outside his office on the second floor of Murphy Hall.
“We hope the chancellor hears us, and the world hears us, because the truth is that UCLA is racist,” yelled Williams, a fifth-year ecology and evolutionary biology student.
UCLA’s Sigma Phi Epsilon, the fraternity who hosted the “Kanye Western” party, put out a statement on their Facebook page just before the protests apologizing to those who were hurt and saying that they were appreciative of the dialogue sparked:
The university also put out an offical statement on Thursday, announcing the decision to suspend social activities for the fraternity and sorority, and a reminder for students to exercise good judgment:
We remind students that while they are free to celebrate in ways that draw on popular culture, their specific choices can cause harm and pain to fellow members of their community. Put simply: Just because you can do something, does not mean you should.
Over the weekend, criticism emerged from some people who questioned the evidence supporting claims that attendees wore blackface, as well as those who believe that the fraternity’s First Amendment rights are being questioned. One critic, the president of the New York Civil Rights Coalition and an occasional Fox News contributor, insisted in an open letter to UCLA’s chancellor that ”no evidence suggests that the Fraternity advocated segregation or inferior social status for women.”